Unfortunately, our game has recently acquired a bad reputation.
Recent events have convinced many people that corruption in football is widespread and most believe that many footballers here have sometime or other dipped their fingers in the pie.
However, while it is true that where there is money and competition there is bound to be foul play, I believe that the majority of our footballers are honest and loyal to their clubs.
I can name many who were renowned for their fair play and today I want to pay homage to one of the best of them.
Those who remember Romeo Vassallo, of Ħamrun Spartans, will surely vouch for his integrity and that he enjoyed the trust of the supporters.
Vassallo started his career before the war with Florid Lions, of Cospicua. After the war he had his first taste of Second Division football with Msida and, at the same time, he played regularly with the regimental team of the Second Battery RMA.
The ‘Gunners’ had a formidable team in those days and Vassallo was one of the stalwarts who won the Command Senior League and the United Services Cup.
This was no mean task in those days when the British regiments stationed in Malta were represented by many British professional players who, because of the war, were stationed on the island.
In 1945-46, Vassallo joined Ħamrun Liberty where he soon established himself as one of the most promising inside-forwards in the Second Division.
When Liberty won promotion and changed name to Ħamrun Spartans, Vassallo easily bridged the gap between Second and First Division football.
In his first season with Liberty, the club became the first Second Division side to reach the FA Trophy final. Vassallo was one of the heroes of the team which was narrowly beaten by Sliema Wanderers by two goals to one.
Season 1946-47 was a memorable one for the Spartans. After many years in the doldrums, they finally assembled a team capable of challenging for the honours.
Although only 20 years old at the time, Vassallo commanded a regular place in the team which took the league title from Valletta and then went on to beat their arch rivals 2-1 in the Cassar Cup final.
Vassallo could not be classed among the best ball players on the island.
He was, however, a hard-working player. His shooting was perhaps a bit weak but his head-work was second to none as he used to rise for high balls and beat men far taller than himself.
Vassallo was a 100 per cent club man.
Always faithful to Ħamrun, he could always be relied on to give his best and expend all his energy for the team.
Vassallo stayed with the Spartans for seven seasons during which he hardly lost a match.
In all, he played 118 times in the red and black shirt of the Spartans and scored 35 goals.
He was undoubtedly the most respected and loved Spartans’ player of his era.
No better epitaph could be given to this fine player than that by the Spartans’ Magazine of March 1950 which said:
“His noble character both on and off the field was a thing worthy of admiration.”
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